Easing the Nonstop Arguments in My Mind

February 2, 2010 at 4:01 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Forked Road

Sloth or industry? Why, let me stand still for moments at a time while I decide...

On Sunday I noticed that about a third of my thoughts consist of tedious debates about whether do a series of tiny tasks. It goes a little like this: I notice something I should do around the house, say, to wipe the pollen out from under a fading bouquet. Instead of either doing it promptly or forgetting about it, I carry out a spirited debate on whether or not to do it immediately.

“Damn it, why not just do it?”

“Yes, but right now I’m about to start the laundry, and if I get diverted, I’ll forget what I’m doing.”

“You’ve thought about that pollen for days now. Don’t be so lazy. Just wipe it up. It will only take a minute.”

“I don’t want to right now.”

And so on, until I notice yet again that I haven’t switched the bulb in my burned-out porch light.

This drives me nuts. It’s dull, for one thing. I hate it when my thoughts bore me. It also takes up hard drive space that could be devoted to a more productive train of thought. Finally, and perhaps most obviously, the debate consumes more time than prompt action would. So yesterday morning I set out to quell the whole dialog.

It seemed to me that there were four possible ways to do this:

1. Immediately turn my mind to a subject that I set in advance and pursue all day long. This seemed unlikely, though, because I’m perfectly capable of having a nagging debate and, say, praying, simultaneously. Also, unless I wrote it down and carried it with me, I would almost certainly forget the target thought.

2. Do everything the minute I notice it. Of course, this would be tiring, and would send me ricocheting around the house from task to task.

3. Refuse to do any of them. This would lead to a melancholy outcome, however, as trivial tasks gradually snowed me in.

4. Alternate doing and not doing. I eventually settled on this one, risking the high likelihood that I would forget from moment to moment whether I was on a yes or a no. I would finish every task because I was sure to notice it multiple times, and I would only be diverted half the time.

I’m happy to report that this worked charmingly. I got quite a bit done, but didn’t feel overloaded. I also managed not to agonize endlessly about whether I was noing when I should yes or yessing when I should no. Finally — and this was the most important part — it did free up a good deal of thought-space.

It’s possible that no one else out there is being pecked to death by trivial internal nagging, but I would be surprised if I’m the only one. And it would be funny rather than tragic if this turns out to be the one area in which I am repulsively abnormal. Violent fantasies? The human condition. A boring inner life? Freakish and disgusting.

In other news, I started the next phase of my journey into perfection. After some hesitation, I decided stick to one improvement — praying for 15 minutes a day — for the next two weeks. In a couple of days, I will add reinvigorating my yoga practice to the mix. I’ve been backsliding on the caffeine thing; I’d fallen back into my four-cup-a-day habit, so I am going to have to start over, beginning with a switch to black tea. I’ve discovered a huge incentive for success. When I cut out coffee — how to put this delicately? — I am gratifyingly regular. That is to say, the mail comes on time every morning. As with cognitive problems, I can’t believe I suffered with such a burdensome side effect for so long, and ridding myself of it provides a huge motivator.

Ridding myself of painful symptoms may turn out to be my most powerful motivation for change. I can preach all day long and into the night about something is the right thing to do, but until I see the hope of eliminating even trivial discomfort, I’m unwilling to stick to a program.

I hope this helps. I invite you to bathe in the usual love.


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